‘…easy to completely ignore their sensitivity to the use of a mass murderer to sell dessert.’
Custard’s Last Stand: Popular Oklahoma fast-food chain pulls, apologizes for insensitive ad
OKMULGEE, Okla. — I love a foot-long, quarter pound, chili-cheese coney as much as the next foodie, so when I first learned of fast food chain Sonic Drive-In’s TV advertisement, featuring a man dressed as “General Custard” to promote their new line of frozen treats, I was pretty devastated.
Of course this was a reference to George Armstrong Custer, who was good at nothing in life, except killing Indians. To Native Americans, he’s the most hated man in history this side of Andrew Jackson. So not a good look Sonic, and here’s why.
Sonic is an Oklahoma company. The same Oklahoma that’s actually a Choctaw word. The same Oklahoma that was originally referred to as Indian Territory. The same Oklahoma that is home to 39 federally-recognized tribal governments. And the same Oklahoma that has the highest per capita Native American population in the country.
Yet, somehow this was lost on the folks in the decision-making process.
Sonic has since pulled the advertisement from television and has apologized for its “humor missing the mark.”
Sonic Communications Manager Jason Acock talked with ‘Indian Country Media Network’ by phone and said, ‘(The ad was) extremely insensitive, and so we deeply are apologizing to our guests and thanking them for making us aware of our missteps.’
But the damage was done.
The first thing that came to my mind was obviously disappointment. Not really in Sonic, not really in the ad itself. But we’ve seen this before right?
This ad and others like it aren’t necessarily targeting Indians. It’s not making them the butt of any joke. No, it’s far worse than that actually.
It’s a symptom of a much bigger issue. It’s a blatant disregard and total failure of recognition that a race of people even exists.
How sobering is it that ad executives, whose primary focus and life’s work is dedicated to understanding and trying to reach an audience, didn’t even consider the backlash that it could bring from the Native community? Just as sobering as the topic of my last #RealTalk column I’d say.
Again, just as was the case with the booking of Adam Sandler at Paradise Cove, somebody somewhere was asleep. Well it’s time to wake up.
Tribal communities and their ideals, cultures and people are not some relic of the past. Not simply some heading in an encyclopedia. And when you see them that way and have been conditioned to think that they are all dead and gone, then it’s easy to appropriate their culture for Halloween costumes, easy to name a sports team after them and easy to completely ignore their sensitivity to the use of a mass murderer to sell dessert.
The unfortunate fact is, that it takes these types of incidents to improve things. I promise you there will be more than a handful of advertising classes at the college level using this very controversy as an example of what not to do.
And I assume that Sonic will not be making this same mistake twice. Because we have to start recognizing these things before it’s too late and they’ve become just another apology after the fact. An apology, while appropriate, has little effect on the psychological damage these repeated instances of disregard cause. The statistics don’t lie.
So let these bad ideas be recognized quickly and never get past the cutting room. Think about ALL of your consumers. Be Native “America’s Drive-In” too.